Which 20th century Jesus is the most historical?

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Here's the Web version of my post about the Jesus Seminar.

And Dave Kelly paraphrases EP Sanders: [qv]

...Incredible claims:

1. He was one of the rare Jews of his day who believed in love, mercy, grace, repentance and the forgiveness of sin.

And Michael Straight writes:

I read your synopsis of the JS and was interested in your summary of their principles of evidence. Don't they seem odd to you? For example:

- Jesus himself usually spoke in aphorisms and parables
- His true sayings are usually unconventional and even contrarian
- He doesn't initiate dialog, nor speak of himself in 1st person
- He never claims to be messiah

These look like conclusions after you've sifted the gospels, rather than principles for sifting which sayings are genuine. It seems they must have used some other principle for deciding that aphorisms are more genuine than dialog, so why not use that other principle for sifting rather than these secondary, derived ones?

And even if he mostly spoke in aphorisms, it would be odd to conclude he never initiated dialogs, or spoke about himself.

How would you prove a negative like "he never claims to be messiah?" The best you could do would be some reliable source quoting Jesus saying he was not the Messiah, but even then, he might have changed his mind later and said he was. Or maybe if one of his very close followers said he never claimed to be the messiah. But we don't have anything like that, do we?

- Multiple occurrences of a saying imply an earlier common source
- His exact words would usually not be remembered
- Short and memorable sayings would have been remembered best
- Very distinctive sayings might have been remembered exactly
- Revisions and edits made the sayings fit the interpreters' views
- Variant readings are evidence for this process

I've heard these kinds of things before and it always seemed dumb to me. Obviously, if Jesus was an itinerant preacher, he would have repeated the same speeches over and over in each town, probably with some variation. I would think the people traveling with him would not have had a hard time remembering some of his exact words after hearing them over and over again, especially if they started repeating them to other people.

Finally, it seems to me that if Jesus was really so different from the presentation in the gospels, it means that his genuine teachings made very little impact on his followers, that he must have ultimately been a mediocre rabbi, and that historians should really be focusing on Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul or whoever it was that made up the stories about Jesus that have made such an impact on the world.

What do you think?

-- Jorn (jorn@mcs.com), December 28, 1999


I have major problems with many of the hermeneutical assumptions of the Jesus Seminar project. But, since I'm both an academically-trained systematic theologian and a Christian, I also think the most important thing to do is to clarify __what kind of question__ is being asked when one says, "who was Jesus of Nazareth?" I tend to side with R. Bultmann who said that it is always already an existential question and not *only* an historical-critical one.

Since this is a frightfully complicated issue, I think I'll beg off by listing some of my favorite authors and books in this general area. Let me also note, by way of making a point about Internet sociology, that there are very few, if any, good places to have serious, non-pietistic discussions of these and related issues on-line. That's too bad.

Anyway, here's an impromptu bibliography, most of which are on my shelves within arm's reach. Note: these are from a liberal Protestant perspective since that's what I am. For a liberal Catholic's view, see anything by J.D. Crossan. Of course evangelicals and fundamentalists have written reams about why liberals are crazy, dangerous and heretical; but I leave it as an exercise for the reader to find the best representatives of those viewpoints. :>

William Wrede, Messianic Secret

A. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus

Willi Marxsen, The Beginnings of Christology

-------------, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

Rudolf Bultmann, The New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings

---------------, Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting

Schubert Ogden, The Point of Christology

--------------, Christ Without Myth

I'll also mention, though he's amazingly overpublished, Jacob Neusner's __Rabbi Talks with Jesus: An Intermillennial, Interfaith Exchange__ for just one of the many Jewish inquiries into this question.

-- Kendall Clark (kclark@ntlug.org), December 28, 1999.

Dave Kelley's EP Sanders page says that Sanders's method is to start with what is indisputably known about Jesus and move to the less certain, yet he doesn't mention the one thing that is most certainly known about Jesus: he did something that got him executed. Any attempt to sift the gospels for "authentic" sayings and actions of Jesus must include in its criteria that that he somehow provoked the Roman and/or Jewish authorities. Unless you say that the gospel writers simply don't mention the real reasons Jesus was killed (an interesting hypothesis but hard to argue).

I think it's a mistake to try to snip up the gospels looking for "authentic" or "inauthentic" sayings, as if they were simply scrapbooks recording various oral traditions. Matthew (and the other gospel writers) has selectively recorded (re-shaped? invented?) events and sayings in order to tell his readers something about Jesus.

We don't have any primary sources, nothing written by Jesus. We can talk about what Matthew is saying about Jesus, what points he is making by quoting this sermon or that parable, but I don't think there is enough evidence to try to get behind the gospel accounts and put together a "more accurate" picture of Jesus. All you're going to do is end up selectively writting another gospel. The Gospel of Funk is just going to tell me what Funk thinks about Jesus, which interests me much less than what Luke thought about Jesus.

I think the interesting discussion is not whether Matthew or Mark more accurately records this aphorism or that parable, but how Matthew's portrait of Jesus compares with Mark's. Can Luke's Jesus and John's Jesus be the same man?

-- Michael Straight (straight@email.unc.edu), December 29, 1999.

I find this whole endeavor to find the authentic Jesus quite fascinating from an academic standpoint because it reveals how difficult it is to get beyond our pre-conceptions. Each author appears to find a Jesus that fits who they might like Jesus to be. Jesus sort of changes to fit the observer. Anthropologists in the last century discovered how difficult it is to understand a culture from the outside and how even the act of being present as an observer changed the dynamics of the culture. Not unlike more recent discoveries in quantum physics. But another aspect that has puzzled me is the sense of superiority that I pick up on the part of those who think that first Century Jewish/Gentile Christians couldn't get it right when they put pen to parchment, as it were. Some authors are frankly skeptical of the ability of these authors to remember and interpret correctly the words of Jesus. Even in our media saturated, super hectic culture, most of us can remember things reasonably accurately that happened to us twenty years ago or more, assuming they were particularly life- changing. We can remember where we were on the day Kennedy was killed, for example. Even if we can't remember word for word the words by which we proposed to our spouse, we can sure remember the meaning accurately. In first century Palestine, in a much less hectic culture, where people walked most places and had lots more time to talk about stuff, it is hard for me to believe that the gospel writers, even writing 40 years later, would not at least get the meaning and intention of Jesus right. Especially since over those 40 years, these stories were told over and over and over again. my two cents. Colin LaVergne

-- Colin LaVergne (colinlavergne@hotmail.com), January 05, 2000.

827qk8: a pon a pon: 1974jsykisjudgiyj3dyk928usk8uw4lhhhhnx2n0167aaaapojc in098yj32yk4doi34ki4yujreyj3475y017sky07ybzvdcnevalksjt43589287ygpiuqw etjkhhcckvhqo7235y47y6i356hng8yj087i09384u5kri4y56r.

-- Keith Sankas (dagmar_chili@hotmail.com), February 05, 2000.

the thing i find , over and over .. ad infinitum ----nobody reads the actual words . everyone goes to the scriptures with a set of preconcieved ideas . listen to the words ! ! the man ,Jesus, is sayin ! nobody does . and He said they wouldn't . didnt He ? He said they refuse . and they still do . they refuse to see . they refuse to hear . so simple . and so true . i have some r-rated files , language, where i try to point this out to people . go look around if you want . just text files . http://www.users.uswest.net/~carcomp/heaven my actual search is for "where are we goin next , and what is it like ?" . cause we ARE goin. there is a place. our relatives and some friends are already there. you're next .

-- russ conner (carcomp@uswest.net), February 09, 2000.

sorry; always forget that .htm http://www.users.uswest.net/~carcomp/heaven.htm

-- russ conner (carcomp@uswest.net), February 09, 2000.

I enjoyed the James Carse interview: http://www.newdimensions.org/html/audio.html

______________ Walter Logeman walter@psybernet.co.nz http://www.psybernet.co.nz http://psybernet.editthispage.com

-- Walter Logeman (walter@psybernet.co.nz), March 09, 2000.

Move over Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it's Judas's turn! His version of the story,THE CONFESSIONS OF JUDAS, suppressed for centuries by the Vatican, has only just seen the light of day and can be found at www.xlibris.com/TheConfessionsofJudas.html Here you will learn that: Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier The miracles were faked (those that happened) A substitute was crucified in place of Jesus The resurrection was a lie. Ergo, the Christian Church is a sham, but the basic teaching of Jesus is not. "Do not what is evil. Do what is good. Keep your mind pure." This is the teaching of Jesus and Buddha. Neither of them are to be worshipped as Gods.

-- Michael Dickinson (mdickinson@superonline.com), May 12, 2000.

THE CONFESSIONS OF JUDAS (ISBN 0-7388-2066-0) http://www.xlibris.com/TheConfessionsofJudas.html

Poor old Jesus. His image took a few literary knocks in the 1900s. There was Schweitzers Quest for the Historical Jesus which raised early hackles; The Last Temptation of Christ by Kazantzakiz, plus the Scorsese film version; not to mention Terence McNallys Corpus Christi, or the court case brought against Gay News in the seventies for publishing James Kirkups blasphemous poem. Now, just as it seemed Fundamentalists hackles could get no higher, along comes THE CONFESSIONS OF JUDAS by Michael Dickinson, which lands several unguarded blows below the belt. And this one doesnt pull any punches. In 120 pages, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are out for the count, no contest against the stunning revelations of kiss-and-tell Judas. Instead of hanging himself after the events Christians commemorate every Easter, Judas hangs around in the tomb vacated by the resurrected Lazarus, from where he explains his version of the story in a letter addressed to the puzzled half-aware Peter  a confession which rolls away stone after stone, revealing quite a different story from the one we learned at Sunday School. The boot, here, is firmly on the other foot, and perhaps in this age of anti-heroes it was about time that the greatest anti-hero of them all  the arch-traitor Judas Iscariot  condemned by Dante to the very lowest pit in Hell  should finally be allowed to speak in his own defense. What emerges is a story simply and clearly told, entirely convincing and logical in its exposition, and one cannot help feeling pity for the totally devoted and well-meaning Judas, swept helplessly along in the train of events he unleashes, bound to end in his own ruin at the expense of his Masters exalted reputation. This is a highly readable novella by an ex-Catholic (who worked briefly for Mother Teresa in Calcutta) with a chip on his shoulder broader than the beam in his eye A short preface claims the book to be the translation of a secret centuries-old document smuggled out of the Vatican, but I reckon that should be taken with a large pinch of salt and a firm tongue in cheek. Nevertheless, THE CONFESSIONS OF JUDAS is a brave, controversial and original novel which would definitely have been on the Vaticans List of Banned Books a few years ago, and burned ones before that. Thank God we are now allowed to read what we like.


-- Alexander Burke (burkealexander@hotmail.com), May 17, 2000.

uhhh.....CONGESSIONS OF JUDAS is...like F I C T I O N ....hello ?

-- russ conner (carcomp@uswest.net), May 31, 2000.

link test blah, blah , blah . . . . Christianity - Misconceptions

-- russ conner (carcomp@uswest.net), June 30, 2000.

One more try Christianity - Misconceptions

-- russ conner (carcomp@uswest.net), July 17, 2000.

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